There is such a push for young children to excel academically. Of course there is nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting your child to do well, but what happens when the expectations become skewed and we start expecting more and more from younger and younger children?
The biggest push seems to be in the area of reading and writing. My four year old can write his name! A lot of parents use this line to introduce me to their child. "Oh wonderful," I say, "Now we are going to make sure that those little muscles in your little hands grow nice and strong so you can write for rest of your life!" We make those muscles strong by making sure the child has access to lots of play dough, we sew to build those fine motor skills, we knead bread for large muscle development, we color pictures big and small. Each activity helps to develop and strengthen a set a muscles that the child will need to write. As for any building project you must lay the foundation before erecting the building or your building will eventually crumble.
I also encounter wonderful parents with concerns that their 5 year old is not yet reading. There are several important things to keep in mind that are very important and will lead children to a love of reading. Isn't this the basis for reading to really gain a love of the written word?
1. Make sure that your child sees you reading. This is even more important than reading to your child! A study that was published in The Times about 8 years ago determined that children who had parents who read and who had books and reading materials at home were better readers than those who's parents rarely picked up a book. I would agree that there may be other factors involved that were not taken into consideration such as parents who read are more likely to read to their children, but what this study really brings home is that children model their parents behavior. We are our children's first and most important teacher.
2. Read to your child. It's never too early to start. Read to your child before he is born. Tell him stories, sing songs, play pat-a-cake, all these things help make neurological connections that will lead to your child's reading success.
3. Go on a sign hunt. Children as young as two or three will recognize symbols even before they learn to decipher written language. This is an important pre-reading skill. My nephew was very young and his dad worked for the corporate offices for Ralphs grocery store. As we drove by a Ford dealer my nephew pointed to the sign and said, "Daddy work!" I was a bit confused because his dad worked for Ralphs not Ford. Then I realized that both logos were ovals and the fonts used in the words were similar. He actually made such an exciting pre-reading leap! He was noticing similarities, later he would go on to notice differences such as color and letters.
4. Teach your child the letter sounds. This is more important than knowing the letter names! So often I hear that very young children know their ABC's. Usually these kids know the song, but don't recognize the letters. Knowing the song is fun, knowing the letter sounds is awesome! Ah-ah-apple, Bb- Bb-Ball. Kk-Kk-Cat and Dd-Dd-Doll, Eh-eh-egg, Ff-Ff-Fan, Gg-Gg-Goat and Hh-Hh-Hand...
5. Relax. Know sit back and relax a bit. Some children learn to read early, some children learn to read later. Unless there is a problem such as dyslexia, your child will need you to lay the foundation and be encouraging, that's it. You need to trust that they have the skills they need to read. I know schools put a huge emphasis on learning to read by a certain age or your child will FALL BEHIND! I don't agree. Some kids don't learn to read until age 8 and within a few months are reading at or beyond their grade level.
6. Be attentive. I know this seems like the opposite of relax, but it isn't. What I'm asking here is for you to be attentive to your instincts. If your gut feeling is telling you there is a problem, then the sooner you address it the better it will be for your child. However, four years is early to be concerning yourself with the fact that your child cannot read, again unless you know of some physical or psychological reason to be concerned.
7. Trust. Doing all of the above sets the foundation, now trust that your child will learn. I know I already mentioned it, but it's so important I want to remind to trust the process.
There are lots of early intervention programs and while they made have their place, most kids just need exposure and time and they will learn to read on their own. Keep in mind that experts like to make early predictions on a child's future success based on early performance indicators. I find this ludicrous and insulting. I know of many successful adults who learned to read later in life. For long list, check here. Now have fun and go relax with a good book.